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As Primaries Close, Moderates Consolidate Power as Progressives Stay Divided

The 2020 Democratic Primary has concluded to be between two major candidates vying for the party’s nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former-Vice President Joe Biden Jr. are the remaining major candidates aiming to beat President Donald Trump in the general election. With these two remaining, Democrats are faced with a difficult question of embracing the progressive wing led by Bernie Sanders or go with a moderate approach provided by Joe Biden. Candidates who have since dropped out have pledged their support for the two candidates, although most of the major contenders, except for author Marianne Williamson, have endorsed Joe Biden’s bid for the nomination. This dichotomy within the party has been the source of an ideological conversation around liberal politics and the best way to defeat Donald Trump.

Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed Democratic Socialist, represents a progressive wing of the Party in contrast to Biden’s moderate approach to governing the White House and beating Donald Trump in November. Whether certain policies or issues are to be considered more important is largely beside the point. Democratic voters are really concerned with electability in comparison to the incumbent Republican. In response to this concern, Biden’s message of unity across ideological barriers and his choice to represent a safer version of liberal politics aims to quell those anxieties. Biden is also emblematic of a seemingly lost era of American politics, being a considerable player in the mainstream Democratic arena since the 1970s. And most notably, being the vice president to Barack Obama, a figure that is still popular among Democrats. In his article titled “Why Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg Are Fighting Over Barack Obama in New Hampshire” in Time, Philip Elliott wrote that Obama is still very popular among Democrats of all ideologies. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden were both vying after centrist Democrats who voted for Obama in 2012 to secure delegates.

Centrist Democrats are believed to be the ticket for Democrats to beat Trump in the general election. Buttigieg, along with other moderates in the race like Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Kamala Harris endorsed Biden early this month with this in mind. In hopes that voters could ascribe safety and a continuation of the Obama era of politics to Biden’s name, these candidates chose the moderate path to winning in November. In stark contrast to Bernie’s message of progressivism which aims to reach out to low-income and first-time voters that brought Trump to the white house in 2016. With special aim towards the wealthiest one percent of Americans and the pharmaceutical companies, Sanders wishes to identify the aggressors and offers a socialist approach to solving these inequalities.

These economic and social policies have labeled Sanders as a risky choice when put against the incumbent, who has the entire support of the Republican Party. Though risky and generally considered to be against capitalist ideals, the policies Sanders is pushing for are popular among voters. The Hill reported that 70% of Americans support “Medicare for All” policies and while many of those that answered in favor do not want to abolish private insurance, this policy has no support from Republicans. The tax code, written and passed by Trump’s part, strongly favor the wealthiest Americans and the benefits are hardly felt by the low-income people that voted for a Republican white house. Sanders’ message for a progressive government could be popular among Americans, but he as a figure has been the source of some stigma as he has not been able to branch out of his core group of supporters.

Elizabeth Warren, Senator of Massachusetts, dropped out of the race on Mar. 5. This came after coming in at fourth place in three of the primaries and losing her home state of Massachusetts to Biden.  This progressive campaign rivaled that of Sanders’, splitting the progressive wing between two choices for the nomination. Warren has not yet announced who she will be endorsing for the nomination, putting her strong group of supporters in the air regarding her delegates and popularity. Enduring sexism throughout her run for the nomination, her demise signaled the last possibility for a woman to potentially be elected president in 2020. In her article titled “Elizabeth Warren endured sexism at every step of her campaign” in The Guardian, Moira Donegan wrote, “[Warren’s] joyousness and enthusiasm were cast as somehow both insincerely pandering and cringingly over-earnest. This kind of transformation of neutral or positive character traits into negative ones is not something that happens to men in similar positions. Sanders can aestheticize his practiced cantankerousness for laughs and sympathy without anyone asking if it’s a put-on.”

The character of Sanders is central to how he delivers his message and that goes for nearly all highly influential politicians. Warren was not able to create a persona of her own without being labeled “insincerely pandering and cringingly over-earnest”. Divisions between the Warren and Sanders camps have been at the root of her indecisiveness around who to endorse for the Democratic nomination. Though Sanders’ image is attractive to progressives, and possibly to those in the middle, Warren’s inability to create the same momentum due to many believing she should step aside is at the source of the aggression within the progressive wing of politics. A similar division within Democratic factions arose between Biden and Harris when she confronted him about his anti-busing stance in the 1970s in a debate that took place on Jun. 27. Though this feud ended in her endorsing his candidacy, Harris chose to set aside her legitimate qualms regarding Biden’s record on issues regarding racial equality and pledge her support for him.

The moderate wing of the Democratic Party is consolidating their support for the former Vice President, and less can be said for their progressive rivals as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders approach the final primaries in June.

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